Finding a willing partner in a disastrous drama isn’t a picture of unconditional love—nor is it healthy. It often isn’t love that keeps the partner from leaving the chaos; it’s fear. Connection isn’t unconditional. Human connection is dependent on connecting behaviors. Selfishness damages closeness by exploiting vulnerabilities. Healthy love doesn’t tolerate a one-sided relationship—all give and no take. Sometimes we must love, by enforcing boundaries and leaving.
What is Unconditional Love?
Unconditional love is love without expectations of repayment. Unconditional love is without bounds or limits. Our gifts of love are given without strings attached. Unconditional love continues through hardships, disappointments, and heartaches. Most important, unconditional love honors the autonomy of the person loved.
Licensed marriage and family therapist Elisabeth Earnshaw says unconditional love given “without expectation of repayment” (2020).
Markedly, unconditional love moves beyond the normal exchange of social currency. However, when this unconditional love is abused, with a receiver selfishly taking, and never giving, the imbalance eventually damages the connection, resentment builds, and love fades.
Conversely, the love of a mother may reach a true unconditional status. Or, perhaps, a partnership that has experienced years of give and take, but one falls ill and is less able to give, but their partner faithful cares for them to the end.
Unconditional Love is love without strings attached. It’s love we offer freely without pretense, not based on what we expect in return.
Unconditional Love Maintains Boundaries
Unconditional love is not unconditionally accepting betrayal or denial of autonomy. Boundaries are essential for intimate relationships to succeed. T. Franklin Murphy wrote, “intimacy provides the psychological need for acceptance, attachment and affection, allowing safe expression of emotion” (2017). Intimacy is not a magical state but the direct result of specific attachment behaviors—acceptance, respect, and compassion. When a partner’s act in ways that build security and trust, intimacy occurs.
Unconditional love does not imply a lover can do as they please without consequence. Certainly, one of the toughest decisions we may ever make is to leave someone that we love. Yet, sometimes, leaving is the absolute right move.
Love and Narcissism
Unconditional love is a great accomplishment, sometimes requiring loving from the heart but retreating physically for safety. Manipulators seek immunity from hurtful behaviors. They preach absolute love and then, however, act in unlovable ways, without scrutiny, expecting to be absolved by a partner’s unshaken commitment.
These broken souls possess a narrow vision of love, disrespecting a partner’s autonomy. Sadly, they impose their will by twisting their victim’s emotions, igniting guilt, magnifying shame, and dominating the victim of their warped version of love.
See Gaslighting for more on this topic.
“Unconditional love is a weighty term for something that most of us don’t really understand.”~Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT | MindBodyGreen
Respecting a Partner’s Needs
If we are unresponsive to a partner’s needs, then true intimacy will evade—forever beyond our out-stretched hand. If we are unresponsive to our own needs, then again true intimacy escapes. Some pathological disorders—whether biological from birth or learned from experience—limit connections, preventing empathy for others’ emotions; these limitations create dangerous relationships. For others, empathy and relationships are natural; they easily bond and fearlessly march through connecting processes.
Books on Unconditional Love
Healthy connections with trust, mutual kindness and security are possible. Possession of some definitions of unconditional love is a fable—an unrealistic expectation. If we believe love grants license for impulsive selfishness without consequence, then we don’t love, we emotionally abuse.
Romantic partners should be understanding, listening with compassion, and validating each others emotions. We create security through these behaviors, providing the safe base for a partner to thrive. However, offering security does not include allowing a partner to violate personal boundaries and continuously ignore personal needs. When we are continually wronged, we may continue to love while wisely enforcing boundaries, even if it requires leaving the injurious relationships. We may hope from a distance that the misguided lover will find peace and recover from their selfishness.
Earnshaw, Elizabeth (2020). Unconditional Love: How To Give It & Know If It’s Healthy. MindBodyGreen. Published 2-16-2020. Accessed 10-22-2022.
Murphy. T. Franklin (2017). Vulnerability in Relationships. Psychology Fanatic. Published 8-2017. Accessed 10-22-2022.